Perspective: WIS editorial on EMS policy

Columbia firefighters do a lot more than fight fires. In many cases, they are first responders to medical emergencies. But in Richland County, policy dictates that when the county Emergency Medical Service responds to a scene, only trained EMS personnel may drive the ambulance to the hospital.

A year and a half ago, WIS raised questions about this policy in an investigative series titled "When Seconds Count." We asked why, when both EMS employees needed to help a sick or injured patient, a city firefighter could not be permitted to drive the ambulance to the hospital. In all the counties surrounding Richland, firefighters can drive ambulances.

A year and a half later, the Richland policy has not changed. In a follow-up report last week, county officials said they would consider changing the policy if they heard from city officials.  Mayor Coble said he just learned that the ball was in the city's court. Since then, Columbia's fire chief has sent a letter to the county giving permission for firefighters to be trained to drive ambulances.

It's about time. Firefighters tell us it can be traumatic for them to watch people suffer while waiting for an extra EMS staff member to arrive to get behind the wheel of an ambulance -- when life hangs in the balance and seconds count. And we, as taxpayers, should not have to wait months longer for our public officials to decide on a course of action, and to take it without delay or finger pointing. That's my perspective. I'd like to hear your thoughts.